Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Disturbing dystopia

I know many people just don't get science fiction: how can something so unreal have anything worthwhile to say? On the other hand, I would say that SciFi allows for hypotheses to be tested and (more critically) current trends to be extrapolated. In this sense, SciFi movies are history in reverse. Just as people who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, people who 'forget' the future are condemned to enter it...

The Purge: Anarchy is probably one of the most discomforting films I have seen in a long while. If you look past the bloody violence, you will see a violence of an even greater kind (I will let you find out what). The message that this is where America is heading unless it sorts out its gun worship / crime is imparted with as much subtlety as a machete. Nonetheless, the story (within the hopefully implausible future) is plausible (just) and the acting workaday convincing. Mix Rollerball, 1900 and Grand Theft Auto and you are about there. Go with gritted teeth and something to grip...

Timing is everything in leadership. It is about knowing when to act, when to pause, when to run (as in away from people brandishing machetes!) The film is full of such moments when the leader/hero stops, collects his breath, thinks and coolly decides what to do next. As the audience, we are doing the same: what would we do now?

Pausing is one of the most powerful leadership traits. I know we are sometimes lured into admiring and therefore seeking to emulate the 'snap decision makers', the leaders who can 'make things up as they go along' and 'think on their feet'. But good leaders only do this when the situation demands: pausing not only allows more time to consider options, it also means that others are more engaged as well.

When did you last pause publicly?


This is the forty first of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Fairer outsourcing to SMEs

There is an article in this morning's Independent heralding the arrival of Piers Linney (BBC Dragon) to the Cabinet Office's SME Panel. You can read the article here. As the Indie's comment system seems a bit restrictive, here is the full comment that I wanted to post!
For readers' information: the Cabinet Office SME panel has been meeting for over 3 years and welcomed Piers to his first meeting last week. The Panel has been working with the Cabinet Office on a suite of interventions designed to ensure a level playing field for government procurement. 
If you search on > sme panel cabinet < a number of useful links will pop up. 
Panel members represent the breadth of suppliers to government and have given their time freely in support of the bold objective to introduce the hyper value for money, innovation and boost to British enterprise that only SME's can bring.
Jon Harvey (SME Panel Member since 2011)
There is also a stream of articles on this blog about the work of the panel, if you wish to know more. Here is the link to all those articles (and related ones connected to procurement).

UPDATE 290714 | 0758: The Cabinet Office has published its own follow up article, listing (for the first time) the members of the Panel that has been meeting over the last three years. Including yours truly.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Duh movie

I feared when I saw he trailer for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie some weeks ago that all the best (and possibly only corker) gags would feature. Sadly I was right. I enjoy the TV show hugely and I really wanted the film to be good. But it is not, sadly. Basically, the film is neither fish nor fowl.

Whenever, I see poor movie, I try to think how it could have been better. So here goes: the story needed more credibility (it did not hang together). If you are going to make a point of saying 'but this is a movie', do it more! Make that a comedic theme. And if you are going to use the knowingly playing to camera trick (a la Frankie Howerd), then do it more (it's a movie not a half hour TV show!) A disappointing film and I hope there is no sequel made except on the small screen (where it works really well)

The film is peppered with the talents of the usual cast of characters who reveal themselves to have depths & pasts that have hitherto been hidden. At various times these talents are all deployed to bring the story to a successful conclusion (just!) This got me to pondering on how good leaders can bring out the hidden talents of people.

Much of this comes from the belief that everyone has at least one hidden talent if not several. The leadership art is in creating the conditions within which people will be prepared to show what they can do and that these talents can be subsequently harnessed in pursuit of organisational goals.

Do you believe that everyone has at least one hidden talent? How good are you at creating the conditions whereby these talents are revealed and then used?


This is the fortieth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Planet of Trust

The story of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pivots on trust: can two tribes (humans and apes) learn to trust each other enough to prevent war... or not. Anyone who knows the whole story (and I can still remember the moment when Charlton Heston rides along the beach - which I saw more than 45 years ago), will know which way the story goes. Nonetheless, the narrative is gripping and leaves you pondering on the real conflicts of the world.

Of course, you can simply be amazed by the quality of the special effects and the digital make-up worn by the apes: it is breathtaking. Andy Serkis probably won't but would deserve an Oscar for his portrayal of Caesar. And this is a spectacular film with excellent cinematography. It won't be everyone's cup of tea. But it is a very worthy film.

Some leaders appear to think that trust is like a tap that can be turned on or off. Whereas in truth, I think, trust is something as fragile as butterfly's wing, is earned by (not to be expected as a result of) assiduous and ethically consistent behaviour, and exists in the minds of those who trust.

It has been my experience that most people want to trust their leaders and look for opportunities to do so. Which means, I think, that most people are reasonably forgiving when a leader takes a decision that appears at odds with wider plans. But there are decisions from which there is no going back and trust if not destroyed forever, is lost for a very long time. The art of being a good leader is knowing when you are at risk of crossing the line and making one of those latter decisions. It is then a question of finding another path (or not of course).

What have you done recently that might have come close to that line? 


This is the thirty ninth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Voluptuous panic

Some films transport you to different worlds and places - essentially taking you out of yourself. Some films get under your skin and bury deep into your heart - taking you into yourself. Boyhood is a film of the latter kind. Watching a boy grow up (and his family change around him) compels you to mull on your own childhood. And if you are are Dad like me, on your own fatherhood too. Indeed the word that sums this film up is: compelling.

Some of the acting felt a little bit stiff and if you are hoping for some great storyline, there isn't one. Instead we observe the kinds of events that shape all of our lives: the humdrum, the awkward, the occasionally dramatic and achingly poignant. All are momentous and yet all are ordinary. Just go with the flow and go see this movie: it will stay with you for a very long time. (And watch out for the line that talks of voluptuous panic!)

Leaders never stop growing up. If you think you have leadership sorted, it will be because you don't have it sorted. Leadership is about learning: nothing more, nothing less. I am told that sharks die if they stop moving. It is the same for leaders: stop growing, stop learning, stop reflecting and you may just as well stop.

Recently I was fortunate enough to receive some impromptu coaching from someone I trust and have great confidence in. Over some damn fine coffee, she asked me some damn fine questions. And I changed: made a critical decision and reframed what I am spending my time doing. It felt like a load had been lifted from my shoulders (and still does). At any moment (and good coaching helps), this can happen to any of us. We keep on moving, changing, growing and developing.

Perhaps there is a sequel to this film that may have already begun: called 'Adulthood'??

What moments from your childhood would you put on film? (Why?)


This is the thirty eighth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Again & again!

Begin Again is one of those very rare movies that having seen, you will want to see again. I did. I would have quite happily walked straight back into the cinema and watched it once more. This is a delightful, charming, transcendental film with a sound track to die for. It is like watching a woodland brook bubble and glide over shimmering stones. There is a main narrative but surrounded by small eddies & whirlpools of sub plots which could have spun off into stories of themselves.

The acting is authentic and passionate: as naturalistic as many of the best films of France. I have no idea what Kiera Knightley & Mark Ruffalo are like in real life, but they just seem to inhabit their roles. Indeed, all the acting is magnetic & bright eyed: the performances draw you in. This is a powerful film that you simply must go and see.

This is story about doing what is right for you: not being persuaded to sell out, compromise or just fit in. In this respect, it is awkward movie that should (if you let it) make you wonder if you have, perhaps, lost some connection with the dreams you began with.

The hardest part of being a leader is truly knowing what is your 'thing', your 'bag', your 'cri de coeur', your passion / focus / aim / ambition... (whatever you want to call it). What will you not give up? What are you at risk of giving up? What have you given up so far but could find again? What have you lost forever?

If you want to lead people: you have to know the answers to these questions.


This is the thirty seventh of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 7 July 2014

What makes a Mâch~iâ~velliân whistle blowing leader?

Machiavelli, not one to mince words, wrote:
A prince must therefore always seek advice… he must always be a constant questioner, and he must listen patiently to the truth regarding what he has inquired about, moreover if he finds that anyone for some reason holds the truth back he must show his wrath. (from 'The Prince' Penguin Classics publication translated by George Bull, 1981)
If he hadn't have been the world's first public sector management consultant, Machiavelli would have been a whistleblower. Truth was very important to him. Wise & grounded leaders still regard truth as an essential ingredient in running any organisation successfully. Only unwise leaders want to surround themselves with people who offer only sanitised versions of the truth.

And so it is that remarkable leaders take action to encourage whistleblowing. This of course is not what happened to James Patrick, whose story is now well known. But if you have not seen it, I commend this short video interview of him by the Cliff Caswell, editor of Police Oracle. But other leaders can and should do different. But what needs to be put in place?

There is some useful guidance here: Whistleblowing arrangements: Code of practice (PAS 1998:2008) which includes a useful checklist. The Public Concern At Work website is a rich source of information and case studies as well.

But all this got me to thinking, what would I expect of a leader who not only claims to be supportive of whistleblowing (as many do) but who is, in fact, supportive of it. In my opinion, such a leader would:
  • Evidence an ability to listen and act upon information provided via whistleblowing
  • Understand and be able to explain in straightforward terms, the difference between grievances and whistleblowing - and when they need to be invoked
  • Be able to give examples of where whistleblowing has made a positive difference to the services being provided to the public
  • Be able to counter convincingly (the oft repeated accusations) that those who whistleblow usually end up outside the organisation or being passed over for promotion (etc.)
  • Put in place sufficient resources (such as a helpline and more) to allow confidential whistleblowing to occur
  • Be clear that whistleblowing rights are extended to all, including contractors
  • Sponsor and help shape an effective communications strategy that reaches into every nook and crevice of the organisation, so that everyone knows about how they can whistleblow
  • See how whistleblowing connects with organisational improvement, reputation management, social media & comms policies and leadership development
  • Challenge other leaders who may have bought the T-shirt but are not quite wearing it yet!
  • Review progress and test whether whistleblowing is happening as it should
  • Be whistleblowers themselves (should the need arise) and have the capability and commitment to speak truth unto power
  • Show even more ability just to listen... (and learn and act...)
There is probably more (what would you add?).

But how do you measure up?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Dancing on sunshine

I spent the first half an hour watching Walking on Sunshine wondering how I would improve the film. Some films just work from the off, while others... um... don't. Some musical movies segue from one song to another effortlessly and convincingly. This film doesn't. Instead 80's hits are shoehorned in to what is essentially a cup cake of movie.

The acting is uninspiring, the sets just a bit too twee (I wonder if the Pula tourism authority paid for a lot of this film!?) and the narrative is about as substantial as candyfloss. What can I say? Go see this movie if you are still living the dream of 80's and addicted to all romcom films. If not, there are better films around.

At one point in the movie, one of the characters says that perhaps she is in love with love. This got me thinking about whether some leaders are in love with leadership rather than the results they are achieving. I finally got around to watching Into the Wild the other day (my son has been saying I should see this for a while) and a) it is a 1000 times better than Walking on Sunshine and b) it too carries a similar message: happiness is only real when it is shared.

Leadership is not a thing in itself. It is a always a means to an end. And than end is a result worth having: a change to the world that is valuable to more people that just the leader her/himself.

For whom do you practice your leadership?


This is the thirty sixth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.